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Standing in Holy Places

Rosalyn Eves is a (mostly) stay-at-home mom to two young children, currently living in Southern Utah with her chemistry professor husband. She has a BA in English from BYU and an MA and PhD in English from Penn State, which she puts to use by teaching the occasional composition class at a local university. In the little spare time that she has she reads, writes, occasionally runs, and generally avoids housework.

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of place: places I love, like the Montana mountains of my childhood, the sunflower studded fields of my mission, the temple. And places I dislike, like the lines in Wal-Mart, the dirty streets after a long overdue spring thaw. But mostly, I’ve been thinking about the scriptural injunction to “stand in holy places.”

Why this obsession with place? Some of it comes from my current struggle to find my place in a new ward and a new community: I am constantly confronted by unfamiliar spaces. Some of it comes from the work I did in graduate school on rhetorics of space, which is a fancy way of saying that I spent a lot of time thinking about how different places affected the options some nineteenth-century women had for speaking publicly. But it also comes from a sense that understanding the places that we live is critical to understanding who we are and how we can more consciously shape who we want to become.

Because places carry with them certain expectations for the way we should behave in those places and the relationships with others that we form in those places, places can have a profound effect on our identity—or at least, on the particular expression of our identity in that place.

We talk a lot in the Church about our identities as children of God, daughters of God, but I think that this overarching identity can get obscured, sometimes, by the places (real and cyber) in which we find ourselves. For example, it’s hard for me to feel particularly divine as a frazzled mother dragging tired and grumpy children through the grocery store. In more public places, I take on other identities: part-time adjunct faculty at the local university, onlooker and observer at social functions where I still don’t know everyone. Online, I assume different roles as I click through various websites, becoming a chef, a thoughtful literary critic, a bargain shopper. Sometimes I’ve found myself in spaces where different aspects of my identity collide in uncomfortable and conflicting ways. I remember fighting the urge to hide as I pushed my son’s stroller through the halls of my graduate institution, where my role as a graduate student was in profound conflict with the role of a mother. (One of the faculty there told a friend of mine that having a child was like tying a millstone around your neck, a permanent burden destined to drag you down into ignorance and obscurity.) In all these places, although the root of who I am—my identity as a child of God—doesn’t change, my sense of it does.

So what about the idea of “standing in holy places?” Eliza R. Snow, in addressing a Relief Society congregation, told the women that “it is the duty of each one of us to be a holy woman.” I think that injunction still stands for us today. And I think that we find that role easiest to assume when we are not only engaged in holy acts, but standing in holy places. For example, in the temple, I find the most congruence between the role that place invites me to assume and my knowledge of who I really am.

Places don’t control who we are—but they do present invitations for who we can become. We choose how to respond to those invitations. Sitting in sacrament meeting with squirming children, I can choose whether to see that space as a stressful and unrewarding place, or I can try to respond to the presence of the Spirit and experience that place as holy, my unruly children notwithstanding. (This doesn’t mean, however, that this is always easy!) Understanding a place as a holy place, I think, allows us to more easily access our own holy roles, and to see the divinity of our other roles—as sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, teachers, and creators.

How then, do we stand in holy places? Where do we go? What places do we inhabit? How do we make the places that we regularly inhabit (our homes, offices, schools) more holy? Obviously, there are some places that we should just avoid. But there are some profane places that we have to enter, whether for work, service, or other causes. How can we keep sight of our holy roles even in places that don’t seem, on the surface, to invite the Spirit?

20 thoughts on “Standing in Holy Places”

  1. For me, it's remembering and telling myself (over and over and over again sometimes, often under my breath) that "here is where He wants me to be."

    Sometimes that very thought makes me leak tears as I try to do what is required, because I really don't want to be there, but it's that thought that has guided/shoved/dragged me through moments and situations I would have much preferred to avoid.

    Lovely, though provoking post!

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  2. you answered your own Question
    "How can we keep sight of our holy roles even in places that don’t seem, on the surface, to invite the Spirit?" If the Spirit have no desires to be there. neither should you

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  3. I really like this, Rosalyn. Your last question reminds me of a former visiting teaching assignment I had. The home was full of bad influences, there was utter chaos in the state of the home and the people, and the tv was always blaring & often offensive; my visiting teaching partner wouldn't go inside because she said it offended her spirit. I obviously couldn't force her to enter, but I believed they needed us to be willing to enter and be with them. We had stewardship there and needed to bring the Spirit with us. I did have many good visits at this home, in spite of all of the yucky stuff going on.

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  4. A thought-provoking post with some great comments. I agree with Wendy when she says that during our life's journey, we can experience holiness as we seek to serve with love and to radiate the Spirit in our lives.

    As I meditate and live mindfully, I experience greater serenity and peace, which creates in me a purer heart. Perhaps as we remember who we are and how much the Lord loves us, we can then take His healing love with us as we seek to live in the world but not become of the world.

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  5. This post hit home with me today as I am preparing to move our family to a new city. I've been feeling insecure, not knowing the version of myself that will emerge in the new place. I have made a lot of personal progress the last 6 years and I'm afraid that I'll let myself digress if I'm not challenged the way I've been while living here. This post makes me see that I'm not the only one that struggles with this. Maybe I'm not a freak? I'll be thinking about what you've written.

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  6. For me, the trick is trying to create that holy place in my heart so I can carry it with me, wherever my day or week takes me. (And I try to make my home, where I CAN control the environment to a great extent, an extension of that.)

    Of course, as you said, it isn't easy!

    =)

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  7. I think we have power to make some places more holy by our choices as we stand there. This has been my experience in graduate school and in the workplace. Acting with kindness and compassion, with temperance and patience, tends to rub off on others, making even miserable situations less miserable.

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  8. I think the most holy I ever felt was as a missionary. There is something so pure about letting the world go and living God's will.
    When I think of God's work, it isn't to elevate ourselves above those around us, but to help even the lowliest of God's creation. Wealth and education is a gift not a prize for being better than others.
    I think as women we have an incredible gift to love as the Savior did! When we love and serve as the Savior we are always in a holy place.

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  9. One of my most sacred, holy experiences was, ironically, in a bar.

    I have been prompted (over and over) in the past 6 months or so to make my home a refuge from the world of peace and love. I appreciate this reminder of that goal.

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  10. Beautiful post.

    I agree with Sue — a lot can be done in our own hearts and homes. The "Sunday School Answers" make a big difference in my life, for example (read, pray, go to church, go to the temple).

    I also think that when I look at the mundane of life through spiritual eyes it helps make my home a sacred space to me.

    I LOVE this idea. Thank you for writing about it.

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  11. Wonderful post. Very thought provoking.

    Being the only member in my family I find myself in this situation often. The other night at a going away dinner I noticed the family getting a little tipsy as they down one margarita after another. In that moment where things start to feel a little awkward I am keenly aware of the decision I've made to live my life differently. I usually say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving to Heavenly Father for all the knowledge I've been blessed with. It helps me go on feeling different from the others yet not above them.

    I like to feel the Spirit in my home. For me that usually translates to cleanliness and order. I don't mind the housework because I enjoy the fruits of it so very much. I know my husband and children feel more peaceful when our home is in order as well.

    Thanks again for the post.

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  12. Place IS so important. It is such an honor, and a huge responsiblity that many women have – to make the home a haven of peace.

    I ran across the following scripture: "And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and a covert from storm and from rain." 2 Nephi 14:6. I think that this accurately describes what I'm trying to do as a mother. My family is constantly being battered by the "heat" and "storms" of this world. As a mother, I can create my home to be like a temple- like the tabernacle described in the scripture – that will be a shadow and covert.

    It feels kind of cool to be able to do this for my family.

    Not everyone is a mother, and I can appreciate that, but we can make our places – our houses, rooms, apartments, dorms, etc…- like the temple.

    That being said, how do we do it? I think that if I do what I can to take care of myself, I have the energy and inspiration to make my home a happy and holy place.

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  13. I love this post Rosalyn! When I noticed the place I was in determined the kind of mother I was (nicer in public than in private), I resolved to parent with more integrity. If my greatest responsibility is in the home then I should try to smile and keep my voice down there, just like I do at the grocery store!

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  14. Wonderful post!

    I have been made, sometimes painfully, aware of how important it is to work to make my home a haven from the rest of the world. Since I have become a SAHW I have been constantly looking for ways to make this true. From ending the CHAOS in my housekeeping, changing my appearance from dawdy to dressed, working to keep myself learning for interesting conversations w/DH, taking on more responsibility at home so when my DH comes home from "fighting off dragons" each day he doesn't have to do anything, having meals ready and food available so we do not have to go "out" – not easy! – but incredibly worthwhile.

    The more I am home, the more I dislike being out in the world – but that is where our mission is. And as a Child of the Living God! I try to remember that God is everywhere and I can help transform each place I am – if I am willing to give up myy will and the "rights" to my feelings.

    Thank you so much for this post! I know I really needed this post!

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  15. What a great post, Rosalyn! I love the idea of different places issuing us invitations. It makes me think of places differently and as more rhetorically powerful than I had previously thought of them.

    After reading your post, I thought about the competing invitations issued by different places in my life, invitations that are still with me–my graduate school still invites me to be a certain kind of person, and the temple invites me to be a certain kind of person, even though I am not in either space currently.

    Your post also seems timely because it seems like conference was about trying to help us as parents make our homes holy places, by our actions and words that invite the Spirit.

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  16. I have discovered that as I focus on the Savior's perfect love for me and for each of His children, I experience greater peace in my heart and in my home. As we radiate peace, our lives become more holy and our homes become more like a temple, as we reflect the God's love in the things we say and do.

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